Thursday, July 29, 2010

Caterina Ogar Dance Company – New Italians in America Interpret Life Into Movement

Movement enters sound on a dimly lit stage and comes out again on the other side. Waves of bodies and fabric turn and tell stories; kink, twist and unravel. Ancient voices, modern dilemmas and timeless themes run through the choreography of the Caterina Ogar Dance Company. To watch it is to be transported. Caterina Rago, along with fellow Artistic Director Antonio Fini, debuted the Dance Company at the Manhattan Movement and Art Center on July 11&12, 2010.

Bright movement on a darkened stage characterizes When the Sun Rises, choreographed by Rago. Lights glowed through parasols of colored paper as we voyeuristically watched 5 priestesses dance sacred morning rituals to their Goddesses. The dance was at once sacred, playful and acrobatic. The Far Eastern influences of the piece intensified the feeling of peeking into a dark temple at sunrise.

Eternal Return, also a Rago piece, was a strong statement of deeply held beliefs interwoven with her very personal life experience. A long strip of fabric metaphorically became an umbilical cord, time itself or a path enabling the fantasy of walking through the clouds. The three dancers, Antonio Pio Fini, Kerville Cosmos Jack and Ashley Rose Harvey took the journey from womb to death to rebirth, and we took it with them. The opening and closing sequences were without music, causing every squeak and slide of skin on the floor or fabric to intensify. Not a sound came from the sold-out audience as we listened to the dancers breathe as one person. When the music arose, it allowed a bit of relief from the tension that had been building. At the very end of the dance, the silence returned, and the cycle was complete.

“The Earth is like a beautiful woman changing her dress; the change is not always smooth while what is old is washed away." This statement by Fini inspired Rago to create the piece Red Earth encompassing mermaids, fish and human beings interacting with the Earth. A frozen moment in the choreography revealed a perfectly balanced Balinese altar; a sacred sculpture of dancers and red fabric that seemed to lift out of itself and become, just for a defining moment, something otherworldly and transcendent.

Violinist Susan Aquila joined the dancers in this piece, adding depth of movement and sound. At one point, Fini lifted her by her legs, turned her upside down and spun in a circle, as she continued to play the violin. Amazingly, her bow never left the strings as her body spun and moved up and down in waves.

Many of the show’s pieces were set to the music of Italian composer and musician Roberto Cacciapaglia. While living in Italy, Rago contacted him when she first heard his haunting melodies. Her dream is to take her dance company to Italy and collaborate with Cacciapaglia.

Members of the company come from all over the world: Australia, Israel, France, St. Vincent and Grenadines, New York, Pennsylvania as well as Italy. The artistic force of the company, however, remains an Italian, if not Calabrian, vision. “We can determine something from the way every person moves" said Rago, "even a simple gesture. Sometimes during rehearsals someone will tell me ‘this gesture is very Italian!’ I’ve always been told that my way of dancing and communicating is very passionate and I think this comes from the fact that I’m Mediterranean, from Calabria. During rehearsals I often say to the dancers ‘Try to be italian!’ In those moments I’m looking for something proud and majestic or at other times more passionate or effortless. I can proudly say being Italian influences my dancing and the way I think and behave.”

Just 25 years old and in New York City by way of San Lucido, Calabria and Rome, Rago is a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company. It was there that she met 27 year old Fini, also from Calabria, and their collaboration on and off the stage further fueled her choreography and desire to create a dance company. The name Ogar is Rago spelled backwards, a suggestion her father made to her when she was a child. “He always believed in me and told me I should use Caterina Ogar as my artistic name. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it, so I always knew I would use this name.” She began choreographing for the stage when she was 15 and trained at the prestigious Accademia Nazionale di Danza in Rome.

“I’m a visual person and I try to give those images life,” says Rago. “As a dancer I need to dance because it’s my life, it’s everything for me. To choreograph means to give life to my imagination. As I love to dance, I must choreograph; I need to. There is nothing that I can do about it.” Although the art of choreography requires being a skilled dancer and teacher, it also demands more. Rago explains that “something extra” this way, “First, you need a crazy mind! Then, motivation and determination.”

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